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Canadian museum to receive telltale fossilized microbe collection

The Canadian government will acquire a one-of-a-kind archive of the country’s ecological history thanks to a U.S. scientist who has spent his career collecting thousands of lakebottom samples of fossilized microbes that represent a 50-million-year record of life, death and evolution in ancient Canada.

Connecticut College limnologist Peter Siver has been storing his vast collection of fossilized and modern-day chrysophytes — microscopic organisms at the base of the freshwater food web — among the canoes and paddles of the campus boathouse near the Thames River in New London, Connecticut.

A major portion of Siver’s archive, now the world’s largest collection of a family of microorganisms deemed crucial to understanding past climates, landscapes and ecosystems, will soon be headed to the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa as part of a $150,000, U.S. government-funded cataloguing and conservation project.

“Vast chrysophyte collections simply don’t exist, because chrysophytes haven’t been well studied previously and the samples are difficult to preserve,” Siver said in an announcement issued by the college. “With these collections, we will be able to compare data and answer a lot of remaining questions.”

Siver, who has gathered fossilized and living Canadian chrysophyte specimens from Newfoundland to the Northwest Territories during his 30-year research career, said he decided to donate his collection to the Ottawa museum and two other respected institutions in the U.S. and the U.K. because they each have “a history of caring about microbes.”

The donation also includes thousands of specimens of diatoms, another microbe scientists use to analyze lakebottom sediment layers.

Collectively, the Canadian museum, Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences and London’s Natural History Museum will receive thousands microscope slides, sediment cores and other research material to help researchers in a range of disciplines profile present-day North American lakes and reconstruct long-lost worlds.

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